Old car or lousy mechanic?

In the last month, I’ve spent well over $800 on my '94 Toyota Corolla DX. My mechanic replaced a cracked timing belt, changed the sparkplugs, and overhauled the exhaust system plus did a full-service inspection/oil change.

Before all of this, I had been hearing what I now know to be a Very Bad Sound: The metal-on-metal of vanished brake pads. It got worse, and as of this morning the car is on a tow truck ready to go back to the mechanic.

My question is: If they managed to find and fix problems in practically every corner of the car, how did they miss the brake pads? I know they drove the car during the repair session, while the noise was audible. The mechanic says it’s because they didn’t rotate the tires or take the wheels off, but I’m still suspicious.

Is this a sign of a less-than-stellar mechanic, or just an old car getting older?

Mostly I would ask, why didn’t you point out the noise to him if you already knew about it. He sounds like a good mechanic if you got all that done for that price, but it could be he is a little hard of hearing from working around noisy cars for a long time.

You paid someone to change your spark plugs? Okay…

What part of any of the repairs you mentioned involve driving the car?

Why didn’t you mention the sound to the mechanic?

Front brakes or rears?

Had you asked him to go over the car completely or just for specific items? What exactly did you say when yuo brought the car to him for the “full-service inspection”?

There’s too much “gray area” here for me to fault the mechanic.

Front brakes. The complaining started on the right front side of the car.

Why didn’t I mention the sound at the time? Because the crippled exhaust system made the car run really loudly. The brake pads’ death rattle got lost in the noise. Only after they repaired it did I realize that I had a separate issue. At the time the mechanic said he’d “checked everything” to make sure nothing else was getting ready to break or fall off, and I guess I assumed that meant the brakes as well.

No, I can’t change my own spark plugs. I can, however, bake “I’m sorry I doubted you” brownies for my mechanic.

You should definitely bake him a big batch of those brownies.
Specifically, I am referring to “My mechanic replaced a cracked timing belt”.

Do you realize what he saved you from by spotting and replacing that belt?
If your engine is of the “interference” design, he saved you from the engine self-destructing. On a 16 year old Corolla, that means that he saved you from having to junk the car, as the resulting repair costs would have exceeded the book value of the car.

And, if this engine is of the non-interference design, he at least saved you from being stranded by a breakdown in an unsafe, inconvenient location, and perhaps he saved your life. If that belt snapped while you were on the highway in the midst of 18-wheelers, your family would likely be arranging your funeral right now.

Edited to add:
I finally got a chance to verify the engine design of this model, and it is apparently a non-interference engine. While the mechanic’s proactive intervention did not save the OP from engine damage, he did at least save him/her from an inconvenient and perhaps dangerous breakdown that could have resulted from a snapped timing belt. For some reason, many people seem to envision a mechanical breakdown taking place in their own driveway, or in some other convenient location, at a convenient time. In reality, mechanical breakdowns are just as likely to happen on a deserted country road, in a “sketchy” urban area at night, in the left lane of the freeway, while on the way to catch a flight…

Your mechanic sounds like he is a very good one, even if you don’t realize it.

The work done on your car is just replacing stuff that normally wears out with use. It also seems the price you paid for the work done was very fair. The repairs also do not require a long road test of the car. It is likely they moved it from parked on the lot into a service bay did the repairs and then simply parked the car again.

To really check the brakes requires pulling all 4 wheels, sometimes there is one wheel that is siginficantly worse than the others so just pulling one wheel doesn’t tell you much. This is extra labor and since the shop was charging you a bunch already for the other stuff they didn’t do this extra step.

They will likely do a good brake job at a fair price and you’ll be good to go for many more miles. Your '94 Corolla is getting older, but you just replaced a good number of key parts that wear out. You will have occasional repairs on the car, but this is a solid car and should last you a long time with good maintenance and upkeep.

It seems you have a good mechanic and are getting fair prices. All this can help you keep this car going and save money by not having to replace it with a new car for several more years.